HOMETOWN: Plattsburgh, New York
FAMILY: Partner Rick Breyette, five adult children, one grandchild
EDUCATION: A.S. in Nursing from Clinton Community College, B.A. in Business and a M.A. in Human Resources from Walden College
OCCUPATION: President, Alice Hyde Medical Center, President and COO Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Member North Country Chamber of Commerce and The Development Corporation (TDC) Boards of Directors
If running a hospital is a stressful job, it stands to reason that leading one through a pandemic is simply off the charts. This month we were fortunate to spend time with the President and Chief Operating Officers (COO) of University of Vermont Health Network – Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital (CVPH) Michelle LeBeau.
LeBeau is a Plattsburgh native whose career at CVPH not only spans three decades, it is also a family tradition. “My grandfather worked at this hospital, and my aunt and I were Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurses together here,” she explained.
After earning her nursing degree at Clinton Community College, LeBeau started her career at CVPH as a registered nurse (RN) in the oncology and critical care units. She went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Business. That is when her career turned more toward the human resources side of healthcare. She discovered that occupational health was a perfect blend of both her professional passions. By that time, she was married and raising five children, but that did not stop her from going back to school part-time online to earn a Master’s degree in Human Resources to round out her education.
LeBeau has had many opportunities at CVPH, holding positions from RN to VP of Human Resources, Chief Nursing Officer, and Chief Operating Officer. Three years ago, she assumed her current role. It’s a big title with significant responsibility that she takes very seriously, and that brings her great pride and joy. “I don’t want to go anywhere else from here,” she said, “I love this hospital, and I love these people. It is a tremendous privilege to care for folks who come here in their worst moments and in their most wonderful moments. It’s what we do — support people.”
As the president of two hospitals, LeBeau spends a good deal of time traveling between Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone and CVPH in Plattsburgh When she is not working, she spends her time at home enjoying the company of her family and caring for the six dogs currently living with her. LeBeau is an animal lover and finds peace and comfort in spending time with them. “Animals bring out the best in people,” she revealed, “They love you even when you are a little spicy or crunchy. They are always there for you.” Following are excerpts from SB’s interview with Michelle LeBeau.
SB: What important lessons did you learn early in your career?
ML: I have learned the value of meeting people where they’re at. It is so important to have curiosity and to not be judgmental. I try to be distinctly curious about why people are where they are, and what makes them make the decisions they do. And I’ve also learned that you only actually know what people want you to know about them. You can guess what’s going on and why things happen, but people are very multidimensional so you can never be sure you have the whole story.
SB: What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
ML: In the middle of my career between bedside nursing care and Human Resource leadership I spent seven years working in the Home Care setting. I was young and impatient. I always had a lot of energy and I worked for a gentleman who saw that and advised me that it wasn’t a good idea to be the loudest voice in the room. He taught me to really watch people — sit back and pay attention to how other people are reacting, and let them wonder what the monologue in your head is. That way, when your voice finally is loud, it can be heard.
SB: What advice do you have to someone starting out in their business career?
ML: Number one, make sure you are doing something you love. You’re going to spend a lot of time at work away from friends and family, so you might as well love what you’re doing. Next, be really curious. Ask questions until you get as much information as you need to really understand. Know what it is that you’re trying to achieve, set goals for yourself, and monitor those goals so that you can see incremental progress. When you can see small improvements, it will fill your bucket and make room for more enjoyment and passion about what you do.
SB: What habits do you have that contribute to your success?
ML: There’s not much that scares me. I am like a sponge. I really believe that if you’re willing to learn, willing to read, and willing to take a chance and try something that you’ve never done before, you will be really surprised at where that will take you.
SB: Tell us about your approach to management and leadership?
ML: I’m a relationship-based leader. First and foremost, you need to know your people and your people need to know you. As a leader you need to know how to grow, develop, and support each one of them as individuals. You need to know who they are outside of work. For example, what do they love, and what do their kids and spouse do? That relationship is critical to create a space of trust, especially in the world we live in today. Strong relationships lead to strong trust. And if you trust each other as a team, you will follow one another to sometimes risky places, and be able to do things that you can’t do without that.
SB: What are you most proud of professionally?
ML: I’m most proud of how my organizations have weathered the last two years during the pandemic. It was spectacular to watch how both hospitals really came together in support of our communities and in support of our patients. I was fortunate enough to be able to step outside of what was happening at times, and just watch incredible moments unfold. As communities we are so fortunate to have such amazing people caring for us.
SB: We lost a lot of things in the pandemic, but we gained some things too. What did you gain that you can carry with you going forward?
ML: I learned that it’s really important to know why you do what you do. Know your mission, your vision, and know your “why?” We have learned that we are so much more adaptable than we ever thought, both as individuals and also as an industry. We’ve come to understand that we can change. Even those of us who say we like change can be pushed to the point where we really don’t – it becomes too much. We have learned that regardless of where we stand, we can adapt to change so that we continue to move forward.
SB: What is something no one would guess about you?
ML: It is pretty obvious that I am high on the spectrum of extraversion. I also love the quiet simplicity of a backyard fire and a glass of wine. I really enjoy finding space to just be silent with myself. Most extroverts get all their energy from being around other people. I actually find mine from a balance between that and a quiet peacefulness.
SB: What do you believe the North Country community should do today so that we can enjoy a prosperous future tomorrow?
ML: I believe fostering a more diverse community is a good first step. We have to figure out how to be more inclusive so that we can become a community that welcomes all people –- regardless of where they are from, their gender identity, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. There is real beauty in bringing together folks from all walks of life to live and grow together as a community. As a region, our future will rest on a commitment to remain creative and innovative and, by advancing diversity, equity and inclusion, we can do that in a truly successful way.